David Clohessy & Christa Brown Give 10 Tips to Survivors of Sex Abuse From Baptist Clergy

Thousands of Southern Baptist Convention delegates voted on a new president and several resolutions at their meeting on June 10, 2014. Photo by Van Payne/Baptist Press

As the media spotlight focuses its glare on the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Convention, we who have been dealing with abuse issues for years already see familiar patterns of institutional protection and image management in the Southern Baptist leadership’s response.

To Baptist clergy sex abuse survivors, therefore, we’re offering these tips in your efforts to confront the dysfunction and intransigence you may be encountering in the days ahead.

Know that you aren’t alone. The cruelest lie that clergy abuse survivors can believe is that their experience is unique. It isn’t. Experts say that more kids are likely being abused among Protestants than among Catholics, and the recent Houston Chronicle exposé makes plain that the extent of the Baptist problem is horrific.

Find a trauma therapist. When horrific memories begin to intrude, many survivors make the mistake of thinking, “I can handle it.” But almost without exception, every abuse survivor will be able to “handle it” better with the support of a skilled therapist. Get one sooner rather than later, and make sure she or he is licensed by the state. Faith-based counselors who are typically ill-equipped for dealing with such serious trauma have further wounded countless numbers of survivors.

Contact law enforcement. A crime was committed against you, so you should report it. Short statutes of limitation often preclude the prosecution of child sex crimes, but the fact that a case cannot be criminally prosecuted does not mean that a crime was not committed. As statutes of limitation are changing all the time, you also shouldn’t assume that time has run out.

Reporting the crime will begin a paper trail that can be crucial documentation for yourself or other possible victims. You may also help solidify in your psyche the reality of what was done to you: It was a crime, and you are not at fault. Consider reporting to one of the clergy sex abuse hotlines in states where the attorneys general are pursuing abuse investigations. You might also contact journalists, confidentially if you like, who are investigating Baptist clergy sex abuse.

Find a good lawyer. Many Baptist survivors are reluctant to go to lawyers because they’ve grown up with the religious instruction that a believer shouldn’t sue another believer. But filing a civil lawsuit creates a public document that makes it easier for journalists to report on abuse allegations and thereby helps inform the public about abusive clergy.

Many abuse survivors don’t contact attorneys because the thought of testifying about what was done to them is terrifying. (See #2: A good therapist can help you deal with that fear.) Consulting an attorney doesn’t mean you have to file a lawsuit, and even if you do, it still doesn’t mean you’ll be required to testify in court. But know this: Many church officials have attorneys at the ready with experience in intimidating abuse survivors. You deserve to have the counsel of an attorney who is on your side.

Don’t go to the church. If you talk to anyone from the church about your situation, the odds are excellent that you will be revictimized with shaming tactics, and that little will be done about your perpetrator. Churches cannot investigate themselves. In the rare event that a church does claim to hire an “independent investigator,” it often leaves church officials in the driver’s seat.

Christa Brown is the author of “This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and his Gang” and serves on the board of advisors for the Child-Friendly Faith Project. David Clohessy, the former longtime director of SNAP, currently serves as SNAP’s volunteer director for St. Louis.

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Source: Religion News Service